About Mental Health Professionals
It can be confusing to people unfamiliar with the Mental Health Field to know who to engage. There are numerous professional designations each with specific areas of focus. All can and do provide excellent services, and the descriptions below are not meant in any way to imply a ranking, or superiority of any profession. Mental health Services often require coordination with multiple professionals as a team to provide the best services. The list is not comprehensive, but an overview of the most common practitioners.
Registered Psychiatric Nurses: Considered the jack of all trades, master of none, historically, RPNs have been increasing the scope of their practice over the past few decades. The role of RPNs has expanded beyond working in psychiatric hospitals, looking after the severely mentally ill. Scope of practice includes family therapy, individual therapy, medication evaluation, physical exam, and consultation. The strength of the RPN is the broad skill-set, a full understanding of anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and therapy. Therapy is covered in basic terms in training, but many RPNs receive additional training post graduation. RPNs have practiced at a diploma level, but recently undergraduate degree and graduate degree programs have become available. Warren Krywko RPN is nearing completion of the degree program at Douglas College, and plans to enroll in the Masters Degree Program at Brandon University.
Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists were historically the leaders in the mental health field. This has shifted over the past three decades to a much more collaborative model. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have a specialization in mental health. Psychiatrists are the experts on the medical side of mental health, and their main mode of treatment is prescription medications. Due to a shortage of Psychiatrists, and other health professions in Alberta, the family physician often provides this service in less complex cases, or while waiting for a psychiatric consult. Psychiatrists will evaluate any potential medical conditions that could be causing or contributing to the problems, and often work in conjunction with psychotherapists of other disciplines. Many psychiatrists can and do provide psychotherapy as well, but not in all cases. Psychiatrists and physicians are the only professionals who can currently provide a prescription for medications, although this may change in the future if Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are to become a recognized designation in Alberta.
Psychologists: There are two main types of psychologists, educational and clinical. Educational Psychologists usually work with schools, assessing children for learning disabilities, or intellectual abilities. Some provide therapy, but many solely provide the assessment service. Some have a dual role as the school counselor and providing assessment. Clinical Psychologists are trained in therapy, and receive extensive training and supervision. Psychologists require a Masters Degree to practice, although many go on to the Doctoral Degree.
Social Workers: Social Workers have historically been thought of as synonymous with Children's Services, but that is not accurate. At the Masters Degree level, Social Workers also provide individual and family therapy. Social Workers typically focus on families and systems, but that is a broad generalization that is by no means accurate for all practitioners.